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BY LINCOLN ANDERSON | After 40 years on LaGuardia Place, Washington Square Wines and Liquors will be closing for good at the end of this month.
Clift Arden, who has been a manager at the store since 1976, said his understanding is that New York University — the landlord of the strip of single-story retail stores on LaGuardia between W. Third and Bleecker Sts. — recently doubled the rent for the space, and that the store’s owners simply can’t afford it.
He said that at least three potential buyers of the store (who would essentially buy the place’s remaining stock of alcohol) were scared off from taking a potential seven-year lease because of a demolition clause under which N.Y.U. can evict the commercial tenant in six months.
“Who the hell is going to invest a half a million dollars in a space if they’re going to demolish in six months?” Arden asked incredulously, speaking early last Friday evening. Behind him, the store’s shelves were largely empty, as the place has been selling off what’s left.
The site is on the northern of the two N.Y.U.-owned South Village superblocks, on both of which the university plans a massive development project that would add around 2 million square feet of new space. The retail strip would be razed, though that might not happen for a while, since the northern superblock might not be redeveloped until 10 years from now.
On the other hand, N.Y.U. plans to start soon on rebuilding its Coles gym site on the southern block, replacing it with a far larger building, for now known only as the “Zipper Building.”
“Let’s all make sure that we vote for Chris Quinn. We know how behind the neighborhood she was,” said customer Wendy Nadler fatalistically, as she stopped in to buy a bottle of wine. “It’s over down here. What they never understood — this is a village of low buildings.”
Last year, the City Council approved N.Y.U.’s 2031 mega-development plan for the superblocks, which would shoehorn several new high-rise buildings onto the two blocks. Council Speaker Quinn and the local councilmember for the area, Margaret Chin, were the main deciders on the plan at the Council level.
Arden noted that another nearby space in the retail strip occupied for more than 20 years by Ennio & Michael’s Italian restaurant has been empty for more than two years now. Again, he said, no one is going to come in and fix up the space with a seven-year lease with a six-month demo clause.
Arden, who lives on the Bowery, said, “We used to think like nine out of 10 people didn’t like N.Y.U. in the neighborhood — now it’s 99 out of 100.”
However, Philip Lentz, an N.Y.U. spokesperson, said Arden didn’t have the story quite right.
Referring to the store’s corporate name, Lentz said, “The fate of the Wine Barrel is directly related to its inability to pay its monthly rent. The Wine Barrel’s last lease was negotiated in 2002. The rent at the Wine Barrel has not increased since the lease expired in March 2007, and its current rent is very favorable compared to its neighbors. The store has been behind on its rent since at least 2006.
“Because of the continuing arrearage, N.Y.U. has been unable to offer Wine Barrel a lease renewal, so the Wine Barrel has occupied its space on a month-to-month basis since 2007. As of today, the store owes N.Y.U. 15 months in back rent totaling more than $110,000. There are no immediate plans for eviction. The Wine Barrel can avoid eviction if it pays its past-due rent.”